第三百篇

十月 31, 2007

这是我的第三百篇。

近来的数据显示,我的博客每两个月就进帐整百篇post,可见我引文之猛(不过我却很少自己写)。可以预见,若是逐渐膨胀下去,要在这繁多的文堆中找点东西将会是吃力不堪。所以我设立了好些目录page。这不单是为着自己方便索引,也是方便大家去寻索。不过,至今我也只设立了六个目录栏,全是文摘系列;至于探路系列嘛,我只能说声……akan datang。

在这美好的日子里(奇怪地说法),我无意间从cnbc.com读到巴菲特先生对美国将推出super SIV fund以拯救subprime mortgage的看法。这super SIV fund, The Economist和Paul Krugman都非常不苟同,而巴非特对此的言辞更是巧妙:

“One of the lessons that investors seem to have to learn over and over again, and they will have to learn it again in the future, is that not only can you not turn a toad into a prince by kissing it, but you also can’t turn a toad into a prince by repackaging it.”

实在是笑死我了。

这turn a toad into a prince by kissing it是巴菲特先生过去对美国corporate merger的情形所给的一个比喻。他说,美国的许多CEO总是想象自己是美丽的公主,能通过收购那些处于水深火热的公司来挽救他们的业务,并同时壮大自己公司的营收,像是give a kiss to the toad and turn it into a prince。可是事情总是事与愿违,这种侵略性的扩张往往得付出昂贵的代价。巴菲特对于公司的扩张比较主张有机形式的壮大。

而后他的好伙伴Charles Munger更进一步指出,不是每种行业的企业都适于不断扩大;也不是每种行业的企业你的体型最大就是最好。他们在这里的分析非常独到。好些领域的企业,过于庞大的体型会造成严重的内部问题,进而影响收益率。对他们来说,重要的是你在那领域中所有的持续性长期竞争优势。

他们总是习惯把持续性长期竞争优势想象成一座城堡的护城河,来保护你每年固定和成长的营收。所以,一个CEO最头等的大事,就是不断加宽这护城河的阔度,然后在里头尽可能养几条大鳄鱼。

最出名的例子莫过于Gillette,还有coca-cola。不过近年来coca-cola面对着美国本土人饮食习惯转变的影响,使得其收益成长开始下滑。可是,coca-cola的销售网还是数一数二。举个简单的例子,你最常看到的饮料贩卖机是什么公司的?绝大多数是coca-cola。若是你把市面上coca-cola、pepsi-cola、Yeo’s还有Pokka所有的饮料贩卖机的数量相比,你可以发现其中的巨大差距。而这在销售网上的竞争优势的差距,是很难拉近——除非他们舍得一次过丢出百万千万的资本来搞。

作为股神,巴菲特先生最为人关注的就是他的投资技巧和策略。然而恰恰相反,他最精妙的认识在于商业世界的洞悉和人性的了解。Value investing的概念其实很简单,几句话大概都能介绍完。但是,成功的value investing建立在对商业世界、商业活动还有人性的了解。比如说,be fearful when someone is greedy, be greedy when someone is fearful。

记得,下次若是要认识投资和巴菲特,甭去找书。上www.berkshirehathaway.com然后阅读巴菲特过去几十年写给股东的信,接着精进了解。那么对于商业活动和商业现象你没有全精也有个半精。

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Editorial
Published: October 30, 2007

Before his disastrous turn as the nation’s attorney general, Alberto Gonzales was the White House counsel behind some of the administration’s most egregious legal maneuvers, including President Bush’s 2001 executive order unilaterally repealing the presumption of public access to presidential papers enshrined in the Presidential Records Act of 1978.

The executive order, which Mr. Gonzales drafted, made it significantly harder for historians and the public to gain access to a former president’s official records, and it provided an early glimpse of two Bush White House themes: a mania for secrecy and a dangerously inflated view of presidential authority to override existing law.

Six years and one Congressional power shift later, there is ample support in the House and Senate for repealing the executive order’s cumbersome rules, which give presidents, former presidents and even their heirs power to withhold sensitive documents well beyond the standard 12-year waiting period. A bipartisan measure reversing the presumption of nondisclosure and reasonably limiting executive privilege claims passed the House in March by a veto-proof majority. In June, it cleared Senate committee review.

Yet approval by the full Senate is in doubt because of a single Republican senator, Jim Bunning of Kentucky. Mr. Bunning has declined to detail his reasons for exercising his senatorial prerogative to hold up consideration of the bill beyond telling The Dallas Morning News that the “president ought to have the right to withhold any records he chooses.” His colleagues and all Americans are owed a fuller explanation of why he believes a politician’s desire to hide embarrassing information for no legitimate reason of national security should trump the public’s right to know.

Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, should not let the bill die. If Mr. Bunning will not lift his hold, it should be possible to round up the 60 votes needed to get the bill around him and onto the floor.

Editorial
Published: October 30, 2007

Of all the government’s farm-support programs, there are few as egregious as the tangle of loans, quotas and import tariffs set up to protect the well-connected club of American sugar producers at the expense of American consumers and farmers in the developing world. This year’s farm bill will add American taxpayers to the list of casualties.

Under the current system, the government guarantees a price floor for sugar and limits the sugar supply — placing quotas on domestic production and quotas and tariffs to limit imports. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, sugar supports cost American consumers — who pay double the average world price — more than $1.5 billion a year. The system also bars farmers in some of the poorest countries of the world from selling their sugar here.

The North American Free Trade Agreement is about to topple this cozy arrangement. Next year, Mexican sugar will be allowed to enter the United States free of any quotas or duties, threatening a flood of imports. Rather than taking the opportunity to untangle the sugar program in this year’s farm bill, Congress has decided to bolster the old system.

Both the House bill, which was passed in July, and the Senate version, which could be voted on as early as this week, guarantee that the government will buy from American farmers an amount of sugar equivalent to 85 percent of domestic consumption — regardless of how much comes in from abroad. To add insult to injury, both also increase the longstanding price guarantee for sugar.

The bills encourage the government to operate the program at no cost to the budget, by selling the surplus sugar to the ethanol industry. That’s not likely. Ethanol makers will never accept paying anywhere near sugar’s guaranteed price. According to rough estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, supports for sugar in the House bill could cost taxpayers from $750 million to $850 million over the next five years.

Big Sugar is not the only beneficiary of this corporate welfare. The farm bill is larded with subsidies and other rewards for agricultural producers. The eagerness of members of Congress to please their sugar daddies is not surprising. Campaign donations from the sugar industry have topped $3 million in each of the last four political cycles. American consumers and taxpayers, as well as poor farmers overseas, shouldn’t have to pay the price.

President Bush has been on the right side of the debate over farm subsidies. Big Sugar’s sweet deal gave him another good reason to veto the farm bill if it doesn’t cut back on all the goodies.

一个谧静浪漫、多愁善感的夜晚,应当配搭些什么才最是味道?毫无疑问,要品味到位绝对是肖邦的夜曲。其中,又独以这首Nocturne in Db major最是佳配。

在那寂静的夜晚,心中的情感像是细细流水,委婉曲折,时滴而时不滴。眺远望,时回忆而又时哀伤,轻叹且长息。夜幕低垂而橘灯轻泛,还有什么能比肖邦的夜曲更能带出这神髓?

很幸运的能给我找到朗朗的演奏诠释,这真是我听过众多版本中的最佳版本。明晚我妹妹将一赴朗朗于Esplanade的一场音乐响宴,煞羡我这孤寒鬼。我只能聊以自慰地说:“没关系,我还有更重要的事要做!”

自John Field建立起nocturne这一曲式以来,它比过往的众多格式更深得人心,连周杰伦都为之一倾。然而,真正奠定夜曲地位的是肖邦,没有再比他的细致更能衬托出夜曲的魅力。李斯特(Liszt)也有几首脍炙人口的夜曲,但我总是嫌它们硬了些。就如Debussy所说,肖邦的夜曲像是演奏者和钢琴的轻轻长谈。

其实,它们更像是演奏者通过钢琴和夜晚的轻轻倾诉。所以每逢夜深人静的时侯,都是我聆听夜曲的最佳时段。若是遇上停电,手下弹奏的歌曲肯定少不了夜曲。

小感言

十月 29, 2007

或许我的博克正逐渐失去自己的光泽,或许我的博克正逐渐变成一个copycat,然而这一切都对我不重要。我只需要它维持着它存在的根本目的——我个人的《读者文摘》。

好些朋友看见我的摘引与我所写的比例越趋失衡,故来善意劝慰。这个博克从来就没有反映我生活中的蛛丝马迹,顶多,只是我的些许思考。也许就是我的些许思考使得好些人们对我这博克产生兴趣,希望我多写。

其实,我所摘录的文章很大程度反映出了我近期思考的中心和关注点,而我个人思考的结果也通常不会离这些摘录文章的结论太远。就像巴菲特先生早期在其致给股东的信中所作的那样——他从不明确地说出他心目中Berkshire Hathaway的instrinsic value是多少,但是却给出足够的数据让人们从中计算出他心目中的那个value,小朽在这里所作的可能有些雷同。

近来有很多很有意思的文章和议题。像是关于世上最好的教育体制所共有的特征,来自The Economist,可惜那文章无法全盘在这里展示出。还有subprime mortgage。长期的低利息和低通货膨胀率,无可避免导致了人们对于获利的企图心越渐放肆和肆无忌惮。我认同The Economist的看法,Alan Greenspan在维持低通货膨胀率的工作上应该是被记上重重的一功,可是,低利率的长期结果却又可能为美国经济带来另一次灾难性的后果。

在科学方面,基因和人类精神认识的研究近来都有取得不错的成果。进化论的研究是浮浮沉沉。环境的问题——像是水源问题,比先前已经浮上台面的报导和研究结果还要来的严重些。在数个星期前,New York Times就有大幅报道中国环境污染的情形和症结。有多大型呢?整整十个web page,而我在转载的时候不得不把它分成两个part,甚至我是短短续续用了数个小时才把它给读完。很多人都应该不看。不过过了不久,就是才前几天的事,中国某个地区就出现了大浓雾。

也是不久前的事,New York Times报导美国水源的问题。也是整整十个web page。个人认为,这是个很有先见之明的报导和探讨。许多媒体总是在事情发生后才对事情进行深入地探讨,而好的报纸杂志总是未雨绸缪。请相信我,水源真的会是这世界未来的一个巨大问题。

至于人与人之间的爱情问题和多愁善感,或如细水长流,或如洪水决堤,我只能是视而不见。

NYTimes: Counting Americans

十月 29, 2007

From Editorial
Published: October 29, 2007

For the founding fathers, the census was not to be trifled with. We wish we could say the same for the Bush administration and Congress. The founders called for a decennial census in Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution, placing it second only to the establishment of Congress itself. The current administration has thwarted preparations for the 2010 census time and again, and Congress has all too often failed to stop it.

The main purpose of the census, now as in the 18th century, is to support democracy by providing the means to determine the correct number of House members from each state and, in a very real sense, to show us who we are as a nation. Today, the census is also used to allocate federal aid and, unknown to many Americans, to plan for emergencies. Last week, the census provided numbers, locations and other details to help evacuate 500,000 people from the California wildfires.

Yet, the Bush team — with its ideological aversion to this kind of government function — is determined to put the 2010 count at risk. And earlier this month, when the administration precipitated a delay in funding for the Census Bureau, Congress acquiesced. As a result, $59 million that the bureau was to have spent between Oct. 1 and mid-November has been withheld.

At a recent House hearing, the census director, C. Louis Kincannon, said that the shortfall has already forced the bureau to cancel 13 programs from next year’s dress rehearsals for the 2010 census. Among them are practice runs for counting people in military barracks, college dorms, nursing homes, prisons and shelters.

Mr. Kincannon also said that unless adequate funding is restored before mid-November, the agency will have to delay the testing of hand-held computers and data delivery systems, leaving no choice but to test them under less-than-optimal conditions. He warned that a lack of money after mid-November — a distinct possibility — may not leave time to both test the technology and correct for problems. The census would then have to be conducted without hand-held computers, adding $1.5 billion to its cost. Mr. Kincannon was very clear that these problems are only the start of what will become cascading failures if full funding is not restored soon.

Under political duress, the Commerce Department, which houses the bureau, transferred $6.8 million to the agency last week. That’s a Band-Aid, not a solution.

Here is a solution: This week, Congress is expected to pass an emergency appropriation for California. Lawmakers should include full funding for the Census Bureau in the bill. They can justify the inclusion as a thank you for the census’ indispensable role in the evacuations.